The Principle of Reciprocity in Ethiopian Trademark Law

Reciprocity is an agreement between countries for the endowment of rights and the imposition of obligations on each other’s nationals. Generally, it is expressed by the following statement: “To the extent I did for you, you will do for me, and to the extent you did for me, I will do for you”. The principle of reciprocity is part of the “national treatment” principle. The basic idea of national treatment is based on international customary law which implies that although there is no express agreement between countries, a country endows rights and imposes obligations on foreign nationals as that of its own citizens.

Article 3 of the Trademark Registration and Protection Proclamation No. 501/2006 states that, subject to the principle of reciprocity and international agreements, foreigners shall have the same rights and obligations as Ethiopians. The principle of reciprocity and international agreements have to be seen separately, as both are different ways of acquiring rights. Therefore, the law recognizes both the principle of reciprocity and international agreements to establish trademark protection rights for foreigners who have registered their trademarks in a foreign country.

The Federal Supreme Court Cassation Bench passed a mandatory judgment defining the scope of the principle of reciprocity under File No. 193292 on August 5, 2021. The Court decided that the existence of an express reciprocity agreement is not mandatory to recognize the trademark rights of a foreign national in Ethiopia. It was noted that Ethiopia doesn’t have an express reciprocity agreement with Somaliland. But there was no indication that Somaliland prohibits the application of rights and obligations to Ethiopian citizens. By virtue of Article 23 of the Trademark Registration and Protection Proclamation No. 501/2006, a well-known trademark that is entitled to protection under an international convention to which Ethiopia is a party shall be protected under the same Proclamation. However, this alone is not sufficient, as we can clearly understand from the phrase “if it is well known in Ethiopia,” according to Sub-Article 2 of the same provision. Therefore, the trademark and product need to be recognized by the public in that specific sector.

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